Rumsfeld 'trained ape' comment stirs controversy
March 26th, 2014
11:40 AM ET
7 months ago

Rumsfeld 'trained ape' comment stirs controversy

(CNN) – Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's comments earlier this week that a "trained ape" could have done a better job securing diplomatic relations with Afghanistan than the Obama administration sparked a backlash on social media.

But a Rumsfeld aide notes that he has used the phrase before and wasn't referring specifically to President Barack Obama.

"He feels strongly about how poorly the administration has handled diplomacy and that's what was reflected in his comments," Keith Urbahn, Rumsfeld's former chief of staff told CNN Wednesday.

"From a botched 'reset' with Russia, failing to secure a status of forces agreement to Iraq, to alienating Karzai to the point where he won't even talk to U.S. diplomats, to the latest diplomatic fiascos with Syria and Iran, it's been one epic fail after another," Urbahn added.

Rumsfeld told Fox News on Monday that "A trained ape could get a status of forces agreement" with Afghanistan.

"It does not take a genius. And we have so mismanaged that relationship," he said appearing on "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren."

Some on Twitter blasted Rumsfeld's comment as a reference to a derogatory term used against African Americans. Others took issue with Rumsfeld's own foreign policy and leadership of the defense department under former President George W. Bush's administration.

Rumsfeld comments come after Afghan President Hamid Karzai backed Russia's annexation of Crimea, following a referendum in the semi-autonomous region of Ukraine with a large pro-Russian population to secede and join Russia. The United States and members of the G7 condemned both the vote and Moscow's annexation of Crimea.

Rumsfeld said it's "understandable" that Karzai supported the much-criticized referendum given U.S. leaders' public criticism of his leadership.

"It seems to me they pushed him in a political box where he really has very little choice," he said of Karzai.

"I personally sympathize with him to some extent. Nobody, likes to hear a foreign leader side with Putin on the Crimea that way he had. But, I really think it's understandable, given the terrible, terrible diplomacy that the United States has conducted with Afghanistan over the last several years."

Taken as a whole, Rumsfeld's comments appeared to be referring to the Obama administration's foreign policy, not singling out the President, many took his "ape" comment as an offensive reference to the President's race.

Urbahn points to other instances when the former defense secretary used the "trained ape" phrase with regards to foreign policy matters.

In a July 2001 press conference in Washington on missile defense, Rumsfeld used the phrase in talking about how easy it is for countries to use new weapon technologies.

"...with the end of the Cold War and the relaxation of tension in the world, we've seen that proliferation of these technologies is pervasive. And that means that a trained ape can figure out that over the coming period, more people are going to have exceedingly powerful weapons, weapons more powerful than ever in the history of the world, biological weapons, nuclear weapons, chemical weapons," he said, according to a defense department transcript.

Rumsfeld later joked about the ape reference:

"You mean this isn't off the record? Strike when I said 'trained ape.' An untrained ape should know that," he said.

More recently, Rumsfeld used the phrase in an interview earlier this month with conservative radio host Mark Levin to criticized the Obama administration's standing in the international community.

He blasted Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state, again saying a "trained ape" could get a status of forces agreement in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld served as defense secretary under former President Gerald Ford from 1975-1977, and a second time from 2001-2006 under Bush.

In 2002, he also used the phrase in making the case for war with Iraq.

"There's no debate in the world as to whether they have those weapons. We all know that. A trained ape knows that."

In the interview with Fox, he said: "Our relationship with Karzai and with Afghanistan was absolutely first rate in the Bush administration. It has gone downhill like a toboggan ever since the Obama administration came."

CNN's Dana Davidsen, Paul Steinhauser and Nancy Baker contributed to this report.


Filed under: Donald Rumsfeld • Hamid Karzai • Obama administration • Russia • Ukraine • Vladimir Putin
soundoff (1,000 Responses)
  1. Lardeau

    Rumsfeld, Cheney, and McCain have all had their kick at the can. They should all just fade away and take Gingrich and Limbaugh with them.

    March 26, 2014 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  2. james Reed

    Here's aquote for you, in a press conference answering questions about invading Iraq:DONALD RUMSFELD: Every year that goes by and the inspectors are not there, the development of their weapons of mass destruction proceed apace, bringing them closer to a time when they will have those weapons developed in a form that is more threatening than it had been the year before or the year before that." If that isn't an emperor without clothes moment, what is?

    March 26, 2014 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  3. Erik

    Whats the problem said something you don't like?

    March 26, 2014 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  4. Dover

    The right wing are not even attempting to hide their racism anymore. They haven't learned a thing from the last two elections.

    March 26, 2014 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  5. Elliot

    that "ape" comment has racial connotations

    March 26, 2014 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  6. Erik

    I am going to lay out a stream of negative comments about Rumsfeld today to make up for your censorship.

    March 26, 2014 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  7. afe

    How can this guy dare to talk like this. I know he thinks he knows about forign policy but he does not know nothing but arogant and full of him self. He is the main player puts America in to this long war with Afgan and Iriqs with out any exit strategy and end goal. He should say I am sorry and stop talking BS.

    March 26, 2014 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  8. SCDC

    I'm a passionate liberal who recognizes Rumsfeld's role in setting America's diplomatic standing back decades, but it's clear to me that any racism conveyed by his comment is wholly imagined by people too eager to take offense. Heck, even a trained ape could see that!

    March 26, 2014 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  9. gdawg

    Criticisms from one of the chief architects of failed policies in Iraq and Afghanistan always have some amusement value... but little else. Rummie et al. created disasters and got to walk away, having never even gotten close to Bin Laden. Nice job boys.

    March 26, 2014 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  10. Brian

    It is amusing that Rumsfeld (or Bush) can be critical of anyone after their dismal performance to make the world safer.

    March 26, 2014 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  11. GTS58

    The only thing missing from this conversation is "Where was the Organ Grinder – Valerie Jarrett."

    March 26, 2014 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  12. Pat

    Why isn't this guy in jail along with Bush?
    At least Bush knows when to keep his mouth closed!

    March 26, 2014 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  13. Donnie the Lion

    Donald Rumsfeld performed as poorly as any Secretary of Defense in the last 100 years.....and yet has the gall to criticize ANYBODY? Mr. Rumsfeld, your next good decision will be your first. Why you didn't have the decency to resign in disgrace, the world will never know.

    March 26, 2014 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  14. BytraWatches

    Rumsfeld was an idiot and really blew the second Iraq war by not having enough boots on the ground to police the country once the war was a victory allowing the mess to begin, but the bigger idiots are the fools that defend the president and his administration for the epic failures in their foreign policy and when a president is allowed to blatantly lie to get legislation past and his own party doesn't hold him accountable, that is when you know the country is doomed. How far we have come from the days of when Nixon lied, was held accountable and he resigned to this fiasco with the lies told by this president and his own party still worships the ground he walks.

    March 26, 2014 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  15. Meki60

    He was not referring directly to Obama because Obama is not 'trained'

    March 26, 2014 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  16. rude

    The guy who shook Saddam's bloody hand and said NOTHING about his gassing his own people? He has room to talk about diplomacy? His war cost America so much in lives and monetary costs. Shut up Rumsfeld, it is too soon for you to show your smug face to the America you helped decimate.

    March 26, 2014 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  17. bribarian

    The usual racebait spin by libbaby media.

    March 26, 2014 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  18. Jon

    Why is every ape/chimp comment about Obama always assumed to be racial. I've heard and used plenty of those "so easy a chimp could do it" type comments before Obama came into office and never thought it had racial connotations until that Obama/chimp comic strip some years back. Am I just totally out of the loop or are they may making a big deal about something that left our social mindsets decades ago?

    March 26, 2014 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  19. fact checker

    Ha Rumsfeld is so ignorant that he criticizes Obama over something his king Bush couldn't do

    and it's thanks to Bush that Obama couldn't get a "Status of Forces Agreement"

    conservative bull is keeping it consistant

    March 26, 2014 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  20. Borderless

    Seriously? This is an issue. The guy uses a cliche in a bit of hyperbole and people are getting their knickers in a bunch. This story has manufactured outrage written all over it.

    March 26, 2014 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  21. Mahmoud El-Darwish

    If anyone can be properly characterized as a Trained Ape, It's Donald Rumsfeld. Here's why
    Allow me to REFRESH everyone's memory:
    1) Donald Rumsfeld had ZERO military experience when G.W.Bush recruited him for Secretary of Defense
    2) It was Rumsfeld that overruled the advise of Military strategists and sent far fewer ground troops into Iraq than were needed for an expedition prosecution of the ground war
    3) Rumsfeld stated that no torture was occurring in any of the conflict theaters after the Afghanistan invasion
    4) Rumsfeld was an instrumental part of the entire Iraq debacle and concealed information from then sitting president Bush.
    5) Rumsfeld was principally responsible though his amateurish math from the cost overrun of 1Trillion $US in the eventual aftermath of the war
    If anyone can be properly characterized as a Trained Ape, It's Donald Rumsfeld

    March 26, 2014 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  22. jdun

    Ah, Rummy. We haven't forgotten the destructive foreign policy, wars ,tax cuts, etc. of the Bush administration. It is so nice to have a president who is thoughtful and measured in his approach to foreign policy, not a knee jerk reactive, I gotta be a man, I'll show you, idiot. Of course you feel sorry for Karzai, he was your selected puppet to run Afghanistan- He is another short timer, because when we leave he is a dead man. I am so glad we don't have a neo-con in the White House now advocating nuclear war with Russia. No one will win that one.

    March 26, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  23. Hex

    Make a monkey comment and no matter how light someones skin is, they'll call you racist. Seriously. Trained ape is a pretty good word for any human being considering we are apart of the great ape family.

    March 26, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  24. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    That's what he said in public. Can you imagine the names he's called in private??? If only this world could turn upside down and we blacks would be the ones in power and owning 99% of the country's wealth......

    Oh what a world THAT would be.

    March 26, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  25. Mahmoud El-Darwish

    If anyone can be properly characterized as a Trained Ape, It's Donald Rumsfeld. Here's why
    Allow me to REFRESH everyone's memory:
    1) Donald Rumsfeld had ZERO military experience when G.W.Bush recruited him for Secretary of Defense
    2) It was Rumsfeld that overruled the advise of Military strategists and sent far fewer ground troops into Iraq than were needed for an expeditious prosecution of the ground war
    3) Rumsfeld stated that no torture was occurring in any of the conflict theaters after the Afghanistan invasion
    4) Rumsfeld was an instrumental part of the entire Iraq debacle and concealed information from then sitting president Bush.
    5) Rumsfeld was principally responsible though his amateurish math from the cost overrun of 1Trillion $US in the eventual aftermath of the war
    If anyone can be properly characterized as a Trained Ape, It's Donald Rumsfeld

    March 26, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
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